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If you’ve ever dreaded going to the car dealership, you're not alone. That's why services exist that help people buy a car without ever setting foot on a lot.
Once you decide on a car model, car-buying services use certified representatives to do all the searching and haggling for you. And online car shops enable you to buy from your living room couch.
“People hire representation when they’re not an expert in that field … and car buying today is complex,” said Oren Weintraub, president of car-buying concierge service AuthorityAuto.com. “You negotiate price, interest rates or lease rates, the bank fees, and once you get all that done, you’re not finished. … A lot of people are just not prepared to effectively negotiate a car deal for themselves.”
If you want an expert’s help with finding, negotiating and purchasing a new or used car — or you want someone to do those things for you entirely — consider one of the following.
Online car-buying stores
What they do: There’s an emerging market of online car-buying websites, like Carvana, Vroom and CarMax. You simply go online, browse the virtual car lot and purchase a vehicle either for pickup or home delivery. This takes as little as a few minutes. Many take trade-ins, even if you still owe money on the car.
What to know:
There’s usually a money-back guarantee for 7 days to a month. This return policy partially offsets the lack of availability of test drives. We strongly suggest an inspection within this window.
Most of these companies offer financing to make purchases easy. Sometimes it's a good deal; often it is not. The only way to know is to get a pre-approved auto loan from an online lender or your local bank to make sure you get the best deal.
What they do: Auto concierges learn about a shopper’s vehicle needs and preferences then do the legwork. That includes searching dealership inventories, haggling and negotiating extended warranty contracts. Concierges will even have the car delivered to your home or office so you can sign the sales contract.
Payment: Concierges typically charge an upfront flat fee or sometimes a percentage of the amount they save you on the vehicle purchase. This fee depends on the car they’re tasked with finding.
What to know:
The fees might be largely offset by the amount a concierge can save you by negotiating.
Concierges can purchase your new car, so you never have to visit a dealership.
Club car-buying programs
What they do: Members input their ideal car model and features online, then the company’s representatives search for a match within their certified dealership network. These approved dealerships offer low, prearranged pricing in exchange for the company’s referrals. Once your representative has found an option, he or she will arrange for you to visit the dealership. You can take a test drive and sign a contract if you think it’s the right car for you.
Payment: There might be a small fee for this service, but it's often free with membership.
What to know:
Your car-buying professional might not find the exact model or color you wanted in the dealership network. You're more likely to find the car you prefer with these services if you're looking for a widely available model.
Many of these representatives can offer advice about which cars are best in class or suggest vehicles you might not have considered.
You’ll still be offered an extended warranty and other additional products by the dealership. But at least the price of the car is locked in.
Many of these car-buying programs — for example, AAA, AARP, American Express, Consumer Reports, Geico and Sam's Club — are powered by the same underlying provider, TrueCar.
Credit unions often have their own car-buying services set up for their membership.
What they do: Brokers are often former car salespeople, well-versed in the tactics of dealerships. They can operate individually or as part of a large company with multiple agents.
You can hire a broker to search car lots, haggle and buy your ideal car for the best price. You can even hire one to negotiate on your behalf for a car you’ve already found.
Payment: Some brokers charge a small fee or none at all, but they receive an undisclosed commission from the dealership. Buyers should be aware this raises the possibility that some brokers could be incentivized to settle for a higher price or only visit dealerships with which he or she has a good relationship.
What to know:
Auto-buying programs and car concierges provide similar services and don't take money from dealerships.
Find trusted car brokers through online review sites, such as Yelp, or recommendations from friends.